New woodworkers often ask "How many clamps do I need?" and "which clamps and what length should I buy?

The first question is easy to answer: You can never have enough clamps, never. No matter how many you own, no matter what you do, you will use your last clamp and then probably reach for another. Glue-ups can be the most frenzied process of woodworking and a lack of good quality clamps never helps. 

The second question is more difficult. It depends on several factors, but mostly what sort of projects you tackle. I advise people to get a couple of a certain type and try them on a project before they invest in more of the same kind and size.  For instance, it wasn't until AFTER my first or second project using the cheap no-name ½" pipe clamps that I realized their short-comings for the work I was doing. As for length, don't get fooled into thinking longer is better. Obvioulsy a short clamp won't work where a long clamp is required, but even though it will reach, an overly long clamp will be heavy and ackward to use. You don't want to be fumbling with oversized clamps. Properly sized clamps for your projects are important.

The bottom line is, don't invest in alot of clamps until you first figure out what type work you'll be doing and you discover which types you are confortable using.  Each clamp is good for certain different applications, and once you start using a couple you'll quickly learn which are right for you. 

QuickGrip clamps
QuickGrip clamps are just about the best you can get for general work. Like the name implies, they are very quick and easy to use. They are very handy. In fact these clamps are used more than any other in my workshop.  They may not be the best for precise glue-ups, but nothing beats them for a fast way to hold something in place.  Clamping a fence to a table, clamping a stop-block to a fence, holding a piece of wood to a work bench, holding a template to a piece of wood for routing, even holding something in place while you grab another type of clamp.  Nothing is easier and quicker than a QuickGrip.  I've got more than a dozen of the 6", 12" and 18" size hanging from a ½" diameter steel rod on the ceiling over my work bench. I grab them more often than any other clamp. Cost: $10/ea -20/ea

Pony 3/4" pipe clamps
Pipe Clamps may be the strongest and most economical long clamp you can get.   I started out with some no-name brand ½"  pipe clamps. I soon realized that  ¾" pipe is much stiffer and won't bend and distort like the thinner pipe will.  I also learned that the Pony clamp's rings that keep the bottom part in place on the pipe, are much more effective that the teeth that my first ones had. Pipe clamps are economical since you can make them virtually any length you want by using different lengths of pipe. But the tend to be heavy and sometime awkward to use so I tend to use them only when I need long clamps. Some people prefer using galvanized pipe, but I find that regular black pipe is more economical and the clamp is less likely to slip.They come painted to prevent rusting. I've got a dozen 6' pipe clamps and I keep extra pipes in different sizes handy, along with some ¾" pipe couplers to join the pipe when I need a clamp over 6' in length.  Cost: $11/each for the clamp and about $5 for a 6' section of pipe.

Bessey K-body clamps
Bessey Kbodies may be the best clamps you can get, but you are going to have to use a pair before you invest in them. That's because until you try them, there's no way you'll want to fork over $35 each for them. But once you try them, you may want to get a second mortage on your house and buy several dozen of them.  I have half a dozen of the 24" size at the moment, but expect that number to grow. Cost: $30-$50 depenging on length.

TruGrip Clamp'N'Tool Guide
These clamps are not like the others. I don't use them for glue-ups.  But they are worth mentioning and here is as good as any place to talk about them.  If you've ever used a straight ruler or a length of aluminum or wood as a guide with your 7¼" circular saw, or router, you'll know how difficult it is get it clamped to the work piece. And even little clamps tend to get in the way of the saw or router as it passes the clamp at the beginning or end.  These Clamping tool guides clamp to the edge of your work, so there's nothing to get in the way when you're cutting.  These are not the first clamps you need to get, but eventually you'll find them very handy.  I have a 24" and a 50" clamp and use them often when cutting larger pieces of plywood. Cost: $30-$36.

Don't be fooled into thinking clamps are just accessories. Clamps are just as important as any tool you have, and you can easily spend a small fortune, or more than the price of a large power tool on clamps.

© 2008 Mark Goodall